Hold Your Organs Close

'Turistas' is beautifully shot, well-paced and vaguely racist

If I learned one thing from Turistas, it's that Brazilians will kidnap you and steal your organs. This is good to know: Say, for example, you're in Brazil, and if you don't know this, you could easily wind up without any organs, and organs are very important for your health.

Turistas is mostly a well-paced and vaguely racist thriller about a group of American and English tourists who get lost in a world full of dark-skinned people who want to take their organs. Josh Duhamel stars as Alex, who is accompanying his comely younger sister, Bea (Olivia Wilde), on a trip to the junglier parts of Xenophobic Brownskinned Person-land. Bea and her friend Amy (Beau Garrett) had wanted to go to Brazil to see how much of their breasts they could display, but big brother Alex refused to let them go alone, because he was afraid that they'd encounter South America's famous lovers and their irresistible Latino scrotums.

While on a bus ride through the mountains, nervous Alex keeps shouting at the oblivious bus driver to slow down, because white people don't drive fast in the mountains. Everyone thinks Alex is a big ol' scaredy cat until the bus rolls off a cliff, and they're all stranded in the middle of some kind of horrifying tropical paradise.

There, Alex, Beau and Amy hook up with Pru, an Australian who knows how to speak Latino-talk and is versed in the ways of the natives: Like, she knows that these primitive locals believe that if you take their picture, you'll steal their organs.

Sadly, she doesn't inform the Americans of this before they take someone's picture, and an organ-theft dispute ensues. The Americans, Pru and a couple of obnoxious Englishmen, who are the equivalent of the guys who wear the red shirts on Star Trek, then go off into the jungle in search of tropical drinks.

From there, action, suspense and organ removal follow. The organ removal mostly comes late in the film, and it seems like it's supposed to be a surprise, except that the opening scene of the film is a woman begging to be released while evil Brazilians steal her organs. So it's not so much of a surprise.

It's also very strange: The opening sequence of evil and the later scenes of gore are widely separated by a well-paced little thriller with lots of breasts and running (the two features that make the modern thriller so superior to its pre-historical ancestors). I'm not at all sure why the gore scenes were included, since the film works perfectly well without them. Maybe it's just me, but I'd rather not watch someone get chopped up into neatly arranged pieces that can be used to prolong the life of those suffering from kidney failure.

When the film isn't aping Hostel, it's pretty entertaining and really nicely photographed. Two extended underwater scenes are breathtakingly pretty, and there's a well-shot sequence that's obligatory in any film about Brazil: the ass montage.

There's also some 1930s-style stereotyping that's mildly disturbing in a 21st-century film: The Brazilians are all either out to get the Americans, naked or busy picking their noses while they should be driving a bus. There's the obligatory "good minority" who tries to help out the pale-skinned northerners, which is perhaps a nod to the "Bwana" films of the '30s and '40s, but it doesn't do much to downplay the bigotry.

Other than the racism and gore, the only downside to Turistas is that it's tremendously predictable. Like, I wonder if the slutty girl will make it to the end of the film? I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

Director John Stockwell has previously made some cute and charming films about young people (Crazy/Beautiful and Blue Crush), so the gore genre is a new one for him. He doesn't include very much in the way of slice-and-dice, and I wonder if he was told to insert what he did so as to capture the burgeoning demographic of young men who like to see women being brutally tortured and killed.

When he's not in that mode, though, he does an excellent job with the bikini-girls-in-trouble genre, which is, strangely, a higher art form than its sub-genre, the slasher flick.

Ultimately, Turistas is an amusing diversion marred only by the insistence on removing not only the bikini-girls' clothes, but also their skin, lungs and pancreases. So, properly forewarned, you might still want to see this. Plus, you'll get to learn a valuable lesson: There's a conspiracy of Brazilian doctors and bartenders who want to drug you and steal your parts. Good to know.